Tuesday, January 27, 2015

One Life to Live... and Learn.

"It's what you learn after you know it all that counts."~ John Wooden

 Each fall, my good friend Ken Boardman an associate professor at Rider University, passionately emphasizes to his pre-service teachers this pearl of  wisdom; " the world is your classroom". Undoubtedly this has always been true in a conventional sense. Today's news will always be fodder for tomorrow's class discussion. However, with our current ability to become connected students and educators this idea has taken on new meaning. On a global scale, today's teachers and learners have unprecedented access to information and knowledge due to the availability of electronic resources, the internet and social media. Human and electronic resources are literally at our fingertips, for our convenience.  The opportunity to learn has never been more immediate nor has our ability to transfer knowledge to others.

Thirteen months ago I unwittingly embarked upon a journey to improve as an educator.  I began to explore the possibilities of using Twitter to develop a Professional Learning Network. Within the first month I began to establish personal connections with likeminded educators that shared my passion for making a positive impact on the lives of today's youth. Through hashtag conversations, tweets and blog posts, personal and professional relationships were being formed, renewed and strengthened. Authentic learning experiences were taking place as wisdom was being mutually shared. Eventually opportunities were created that allowed me to meet my PLN face to face at regional and national conferences.  Our connections were being strengthened as we shared our convictions for education.  Connections were being made at the local, national and global level and I was feeling empowered to strengthen my instructional practices as well as create engaging learning experiences for my students.  Learning was now occurring autonomously and at my convenience.  Resources focused on current educational pedagogy were consistently made available and were essentially limitless. I was living out of my comfort zone and I was growing. Furthermore, my students were reaping the benefits because my learning experiences translated to improvements in  the classroom..

Last week I was engaged in a weekly #Tlap conversation about the ABC's of learning and at the end of the conversation there was a challenge question in which we were asked by the moderator, Shelley Burgess to include a response using the UN prefix. Essenntially this was a contest to generate the most favorities and or retweets per individual response.  My response was Unforgettable, and that I never want my students to forget why they love learning. It was a response that met with many retweets and favorites. Also it resulted in my winning of  the contest and receiving and autographed copy of the new book P is for Pirate which is written by Dave and Shelley Burgess.  One of the favorites came from my friend and valued PLN member Barry Saide who reminded me that "nor should we" as educators ever forget why we love learning. His sentiment  reminded me how much my love for learning has been rejuvenated since I became a connected educator.  The places that learning will take us is amazing if we are willing to make ourselves available to new ideas. While the "world remains our classroom" as connected educators the current and future possibliliities for learning will remain limitless if we continue to embrace new and innovative ways to do so.  My only regret is that I only have " one life to live and learn."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

C is For Culture ( My Word for 2015)

The dynamic and inspirational author Jon Gordon made an excellent suggestion to start 2015 off in the right way. He suggests that rather than make a "resolution" (because most of us fail to keep them anyway) we may be better off finding  "one word" that we can embrace and then use it as a driving force to inspire us throughout the year. While overwhelmed at first at the daunting task of choosing just one word, upon further review it became clear that there was only one truly appropriate selection for me.  My word challenges me to bravely consider existing conditions in my personal and professional life and then make courageous changes where they are necessary and appropriate. My word of course is Culture."

C is for Caring. As a parent and an educator it is vital that the children I am responsible for nurturing believe that I care about their social, emotional and intellectual growth.  I am responsible for putting them in situations that will allow them to succeed and/ or fail. When success occurs I must find ways to praise and celebrate that success. When failure occurs I must provide coping mechanisms to assist them in moving forward. Either way, the children in my life need to know that I care deeply about the outcomes of their efforts and I must find ways to demonstrate this.

U is for Understanding.  Each of my students are very unique individuals. They possess their own skill sets and approach learning in their own diverse way. When developing a relationship with my students, assessing their work or evaluating their behavior it is important that I remain aware of their unique currencies. Ultimately this will help me to understand the rationale behind their actions and help me to avoid making assumptions about their character. As a parent the stability of my relationship with my children hinges on my ability to show compassion and understanding during the most challenging of situations.

L is for Love of Learning.  My hope for my students and my own children is that they will evolve into productive adults and eventually make consistent contributions to our society. This will not happen accidentally. The passions that lead to the development of their skills and eventually to the pursuit of career choices are ignited in the classroom during their formative years of education. Books that are read, discussions that captivate  and engaging experiences that they take part in, lay the foundation for an intellectually prosperous adult life. My job as an educator and a parent is to help ignite that spark and foster a love of learning that continues throughout their lifetime. The best way to accomplish this is to model this " love of learning" by always seeking new opportunities to learn and then sharing these experiences as they occur.

T is for Trust. In order to provide guidance and support and to be a vital part of a child's life, it is necessary that I establish and maintain trust throughout our relationship. If something happens to fracture the trust, I must give immediate attention and effort towards rebuilding that trust and ultimately the relationship. Trust is built when I take an active interest in their lives, when I show them that I genuinely care about them, that I am present and accountable, and that I follow through on things that I promise in a consistent fashion.  Furthermore I need to show them that I believe in them and that I will go to great lengths to help them.

U is for Uplifting.  One of the most important responsibilities that I have as parent and an educator is to maintain a positive attitude and inspire my students and my children about the world they live in.  While there are many stories today that are mired in negative detail there are plenty of opportunities to accentuate all of the good that goes on in the world. Not only is it important that I provide evidence of the events that inspire us, but it is equally important that I empower them to find sources of their own inspiration.

R is for Relationships.  My success as an educator and as a parent is largely dependent on my ability to establish solid relationships with my students and my own children. The foundation for each relationship is the genuine interest taken in their lives and a willingness to share a part of my life with them. Not only is it important that I take the opportunity to get to know my students at the beginning of the year but in order to cultivate the relationship I must take an ongoing, active interest in experiences that take place inside and outside of the classroom. As far as my own children are concerned its about being present, staying interested and providing guidance and support when its solicited and sometimes when its not.

E is for Engagement.    An area that continues to concern me regarding today's learner is engagement. A Gallup poll taken in 2012 that surveyed students revealed that our secondary level learners become less engaged as they progress through middle and then eventually high school. According to the poll only 60% of the students were engaged in middle school and then it dropped to 40% in high school.  As a parent and educator this revelation alarms me because it indicates to me that collectively our students are less than enthusiastic about learning as they prepare to enter college and eventually the workplace.   As stakeholders that have a vested interest in the outcomes of educating our children, we need to act collectively and collaboratively towards changing this trend.
Dave Burgess a teacher/author, in his book "Teach Like A Pirate" discusses the value of developing engaging educational practices for his students and he has met with great success in his classroom.  His book, his weekly conversation on Twitter (#tlap) and his Professional Development sessions have sparked a global movement that is entrenched in various ways to engage todays learners.  Educators throughout the world are embracing a more engaging and empowering approach to their instructional practices and we are heading in the right direction.  Moving forward we must continue to give credence to the importance of engaging and empowering our students if we hope to continue to develop productive adult members of our society.

My challenge for 2015 is to honestly assess the health of the culture in my household and my classroom. Once the assessment is complete, action must follow, either to strengthen or improve the culture. One thing is certain, I cannot be passive if I expect to influence growth within either culture. At home, my wife and I must empower our children to assist in the growth process. In the classroom all stakeholders must be empowered to assist in the strengthening of our classroom culture.  Moreover, regardless of the setting, all of the members of each community need to continue to feel valued and respected if we can realistically hope to avoid complacency, or worse apathy. The goal for 2015; sustain a culture where achievement goes beyond potential, growth is measurable and where my students and children prosper.

 My word, simple, Culture, I cannot imagine another that has more value in my life. What's your one word and how will you address it in 2015?

( A special thank you to; Jon Gordon, Dave and Shelley Burgess, Glenn Robbins and Heidi Jones for inspiring this post.)